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Full text of "Men Of Mathematics"

MEN  OF MATHEMATICS
to the meanest class; let it stay there then and stew in its own
ambitious juice. Americans may like to recall that Abraham
Lincoln, only six years older than Boole, had his struggle about
the same time. Lincoln -was not sneered at but encouraged.
The schools where young gentlemen were taught to knock
one another about in training for their future parts as leaders
in the sweatshop and coal mine systems then coming into vogue
were not for the likes of George Boole. No; his 'National School*
was designed chiefly with the end in view of keeping the poor
in their proper, unwashable place.
A wretched smattering of Latin, with perhaps a slight expo-
sure to Greek, was one of the mystical stigmata of a gentleman
in those incomprehensible ofays of the sooty industrial revolu-
tion. Although few of the boys ever mastered Latin enough to
enable them to read it without a crib, an assumed knowledge of
its grammar was one of the hallmarks of gentility, and its syn-
tax, memorized by rote, was, oddly enough, esteemed as mental
discipline of the highest usefulness in preparation for the
ownership and conservation of property.
Of course no Latin was taught in the school that Boole was
permitted to attend. Making a pathetically mistaken diagnosis
of the abilities which enabled the propertied class to govern
those beneath them in the scale of wealth, Boole decided that
he must learn Latin and Greek if he was ever to get his feet out
of the mire. This was Boole's mistake. Latin and Greek had
nothing to do with the cause of his difficulties. He did teach
himself Latin with his poor struggling father's sympathetic
encouragement. Although the poverty-stricken tradesman
knew that he himself would never escape he did what he could
to open the door for his son. He knew no Latin. The struggling
boy appealed to another tradesman, a small bookseller and
friend of his father. This good man could only give the boy a
start in the elementary grammar. Thereafter Boole had to go it
alone. Anyone who has watched even a good teacher trying to
get a normal child of eight through Caesar will realize what the
untutored Boole was up against. By the age of twelve he had
mastered enough Latin to translate an ode of Horace into
English verse. His father, hopefully proud but understanding
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